‘Sheer madness!’ Farage attacks Government decision to approve HS2 in midst of coronavirus

We are in the worst economic crisis for 300 years and the government still wants to spend £100bn+ on the HS2 line, sheer madness

Nigel Farage

HS2 Ltd, the Government-owned company which is overseeing the project, was granted approval to issue a notice to proceed to firms contracted to design and construct bridges, tunnels, embankments and viaducts. In February, Prime Minister Boris Johnson green-lit the ambitious scheme, despite warnings by the Government-commissioned Oakervee Review suggesting the final bill could reach £106 billion at 2019 prices. Brexit Party leader Mr Farage, a longstanding critic of the HS2, tweeted: “We are in the worst economic crisis for 300 years and the government still wants to spend £100bn+ on the HS2 line, sheer madness.”

Also on Twitter, Brexit campaigner Darren Grimes commented: “Hells bells. We’re broke and haven’t a pot to pee in now.

“Is a train that many will be unable to afford to use really the priority? To cut 20 minutes from a journey to London?”

Justifying the decision, HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson said while Government’s main priority was combating the spread of coronavirus “we cannot delay work on our long-term plan to level up the country”.

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He added: “This next step provides thousands of construction workers and businesses across the country with certainty at a time when they need it, and means that work can truly begin on delivering this transformational project.”

HS2 Ltd chief executive Mark Thurston said the decision offered “an immediate boost to the construction industry” by ensuring contractors and their supply chains can have “confidence that they can commit to building HS2”.

The UK’s construction industry employs more than two million workers, producing roughly six percent of the country’s total economic output.

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Large numbers of building sites are closed during lockdown, while some are open with fewer workers than normal to ensure they comply with social distancing guidelines.

A campaign has been launched to close all building sites because of the threat to workers.

Four joint ventures were awarded main works civil contracts totalling £12 billion for phase one of HS2 in July 2017.

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They are:

  • SCS Railways (Skanska Construction UK, Costain and Strabag)
  • Align joint venture (Bouygues Travaux Publics, Sir Robert McAlpine and VolkerFitzpatrick)
  • EKFB joint venture (Eiffage Genie Civil SA, Kier Infrastructure and Overseas, Ferrovial Agroman and BAM Nuttall)
  • BBV joint venture (Balfour Beatty Group, Vinci Construction Grands Projets, Vinci Construction UK and Vinci Construction Terrassement)

Shares in Costain leapt by a third in reaction to the news that a notice to proceed has been issued.

Preparatory work at some HS2 sites is on hold after a review of what operations can be carried out in accordance with the current coronavirus guidance – but HS2 Ltd said the four joint ventures will “start work immediately” on detailed designs, site preparation work and the issuing of sub-contracts.

Companies will impose social distancing measures, as well as providing facilities for regular hand washing. Single occupancy of vehicles will be required unless agreed in advance.

Eamon O’Hearn, national officer of the GMB union, said: “GMB wants to protect workers’ jobs, health and pay.

“HS2 is a project of national importance but the safety of its workforce and supply chain must be the overriding priority.”

Phase one of HS2 was due to open in 2026, but it could be 10 years later before full services operate.

The DfT and HS2 Ltd’s estimate of the cost of phase one ranges from £35 billion to £45 billion.

No final decision on Phase 2, connecting Birmingham with Manchester and Leeds, has yet been taken.

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